Addressing the New Cost-Effectiveness

Every 10 years or so, the arrival of some new technology appears to capture and reproduce “lectures” at just the same time that college finances are suffering from new pressures to reduce costs while maintaining “quality.” A few years later, most recognize that new technology, while helpful in many ways, d'es not replace traditional course activities the way pocket calculators replaced slide rules. Instead, through rapid adoption of new tools, widespread but modest experimentation, “low threshold” instructional applications are gradually and incrementally accepted. They really help more people teach more people to learn better!

Of course, “productivity” and “cost-effectiveness” are extremely difficult to define, achieve, or prove in higher education. Here are a few programs that appear, on their face, to be more obviously “cost-effective” than other approaches.

1. There are now several different successful programs that train students, provide technical support, and help faculty through the use of students to train other students and to develop students as supervisors and managers. These programs are often perceived by students as good educational experiences, opportunities to work more collegially with faculty and professional staff, and terrific career boosters. The dollar value of professional supervisory time and pay to student workers is dwarfed by the value of the technical support services provided.

2. Faculty members and professional staff can learn simple approaches to develop studies and to collect useful data about ways to use information technology to improve teaching and learning. New accreditation guidelines and standards, as well as external political forces, are increasing the need for coherent assessment and evaluation programs. Why not satisfy them and collect information at the same time that actually can help make things better?

3. There may never be widespread agreement in higher education for the best definition of “information literacy.” However, recent work by the Association of College and Research Libraries provides an invaluable starting place. It is time to spread the skills necessary to take better advantage of the proliferating, complex, and messy information resource environment of the Web. Many librarians and many libraries are already transforming in ways that can help.

4. What are the functions a college or university should provide through its own staff and facilities? Even in these still-recessionary times, professionals in information technology-related fields can be difficult to afford, hire and retain. But established companies are offering new services to higher education, and new companies are springing up to fill this demand.

5. Educational resources and activities can now be more fully accessible to those with disabilities than ever before. Information technology can be part of the solution, instead of making problems worse. New levels of commitment to this kind of accessibility are now technological possible, ethically desirable, educationally valuable, and legally necessary.

About the Author

Steven Gilbert is President of the TLT Group and moderates the Internet listserv TLT-SWG.

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